Children in care are finding it harder to access ongoing support from social workers because of budget cuts, foster carers have warned.
A survey by The Fostering Network of more than 760 carers across the UK revealed more than two-thirds felt cuts had impacted foster children’s’ access to social workers. Three in five carers also felt support from their supervising social worker had been affected.
Carers were asked whether they felt budget reductions had impacted certain aspects of their lives. More than 70% said fees and payments had been affected, and more than half said the quantity and quality of foster care training had been hit. Two-thirds also felt cuts had impacted negatively upon their access to other services beyond fostering.
In-depth responses to the survey revealed a series of concerns among foster carers over the state of services. These included fears that social workers were overworked and services too reliant on agency workers, with the disruption impacting children in care.
One foster carer said: “We have fostered for over 25 years and cared for well over 300 young people and the service has never been in a worse position to deliver young people with a good care service.”
Another said: “[It] always seems to be the minimum number of visits which means the children are then using our social work (i.e. fostering social workers) support to respond to their needs.”
“Because of high caseloads, our children’s social worker is stressed and extremely busy – sometimes you feel guilty phoning her or asking her to come out to visit because we can see how tired she is.”
Views of foster carers
“My foster child’s social worker is massively under pressure and has too many children in her care. Currently she has 29 children which is far too many to give each one the time they need.”
“The turnover of social workers is quite ridiculous: we have had four this year for one child alone.”
“Good support [is] offered but so many are working with stressful workloads causing them to be off sick.”
“It has not gone down but we are aware that the social workers now have more paperwork and we are now covering for them in places.”
“There have been so many cuts to social workers they are spread too thin. It is difficult to pin them down when you need support and we don’t have regular contact with our supervising social worker.”
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, said Care cuts were putting the wellbeing of fostered children under threat due to cuts.
He added that the thought of foster carers subsidising care for children, or children missing out on support altogether, was “truly shocking”.
He told Community Care: “If looked-after children are to make the best use of their time in care and repair some of the harm that has been done, and prepare them for the future, then it is essential that they get the right social work support.
“What this study showed us is that cuts to social work in general was having an impact on the amount of support that young people and foster carers were feeling they are receiving.”
Local councils have “worked hard to protect frontline children’s services”, said Richard Watts, vice-chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, but even spending increases between 2010 to 2013 couldn’t prevent a real terms reduction.
“More than 20,000 extra children, an increase of more than 60 per cent, are now receiving intensive support through child protection plans than eight years ago,” Watts said.
“These pressures have left challenging choices elsewhere, and this report highlights some of the difficult decisions councils are forced to make every day. There are no easy choices as councils try to balance the immediate need to safeguard a child with the clear benefits that can come later from investment in vital support services and early intervention. It is increasingly difficult to do both at a time of falling budgets and rising demand.”
Charlotte Ramsden, Chair of the ADCS Health, Care and Additional Needs Policy Committee, said the report raises concerns about austerity and “how reductions to council budgets are visibly impacting on the services we provide for vulnerable children”, and that the issue needs to be urgently debated.